Travel Tips

Visiting Panmunjeom
  1. Don’t wear shorts, jeans or sandals when visiting Panmunjeom as you will be barred from entering. “Unkempt or shaggy hair” is also forbidden so tie it up or cover it. And when you are at Freedom Pavilion, don’t wave at, point to or attempt to communicate in any way with North Korean border guards. Generally it’s preferred that smart casual dress is worn in all areas where respect should be shown, such as the above or Buddhist temples etc.
  2. Don’t write a Korean’s name in red ink. This indicates that the person is deceased.
  3. Do use both hands when giving something to a Korean (especially elderly Koreans or authorities).
  4. Do be prepared to use chopsticks – forks will be hard to come by outside of Seoul, though spoons are used to eat rice.
  5. Pour drinks for others and allow them to pour for you – it’s impolite to pour your own drink.
  6. Don’t forget to remove shoes prior to entering private homes or even your own hotel room if you’re staying in a traditional lodging.
  7. Do keep currency exchange receipts to change money back when leaving.
  8. Do plan on being either the guest or the host if dining with a Korean – going ‘Dutch’ (where everyone pays for themselves) is not done. Usually the eldest person buys.
  9. Don’t leave your camera or anything else that’s heat-sensitive on the floor if you’re staying in traditional housing or hotels with floor heating. Koreans heat their buildings via pipes embedded in the concrete floor and some major meltdown might occur if you are not standing by.
  10. Don’t blow your nose in public – Koreans find it disgusting. If the need arises, slip off to the restroom or find another private spot.
  11. Do be cautious if what you’re eating is covered with bits of green peppers. Some of the peppers are so hot they will make your insides burn for hours if you are not used to them.
  12. Take a small gift when invited into a Korean home.
  13. Weather – Korea has four distinct seasons, with a wet monsoon/summer in the middle of the year and a very cold winter from November to March. Time your visit to South Korea for autumn (September to November). It’s sunny, the skies are blue, and Korea’s spectacular autumn foliage is a real draw. Winter is cold but dry, and a good time to visit if you like skiing, snow-draped temples, a dearth of tourists and below freezing weather. Spring (April to May) can be beautiful, but its also the most popular time with many tourists and you’ll have trouble getting mid to top-end accommodation. Summer is hot, muggy, crowded, wet, typhoon-prone and expensive.
  14. Visas – If you have an onward ticket visitors from almost anywhere – except countries not recognised by South Korea (Cuba, Laos and Cambodia) – you can stay in the country for 30 days without a visa. If you’re from Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand, you can get up to 90 days visa-free. Canadians receive a six-month permit and citizens of Italy and Portugal receive 60-day permits. Everyone else has to extend after their first 30 days.Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate before leaving home.
  15. Customs Allowances – Visitors are allowed to import duty-free, for their personal use, 1 litre of spirits, 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 250 grams of pipe tobacco, 100 grams of snuff, 100 grams of brick tobacco (or any combination of the above tobacco within 500 grams limit), 60 millilitres of perfume and gifts up to W300,000.Watches, cameras, jewellery, precious metals, jewels, and furs that are not declared upon entry will be subject to tax upon departure. Departure tax is W8,000 per person.Crafts, sculptures, paintings, etc. must be evaluated by the Art and Antiques Assessment Office in Kimpo, Tel. +82 (2) 662-0106, or Tel. +82 (2) 664-8997, before you leave. Items considered to be of cultural value will be retained by South Korea.
  16. Currency and Money Matters – The basic unit of currency is the won (W). Notes are available in denominations of W1,000, 5,000 and 10,000, and coins are denominated as follows: W10, 50, 100 and 500. Banking Hours are Monday-Friday 9:30 am-5 pm.Foreign Currency and Traveller’s Cheques can be exchanged at banks in large towns and cities, but can be difficult to change in rural areas. Remember to keep a good supply of cash on hand for weekends (when banks are closed).Credit Cards are widely accepted in large department stores and hotels, but will not be accepted by many smaller shops in either the cities or in rural areas. A value-added tax of 10% is included in the price of most goods, and a few services.Don’t tip, it’s often considered degrading (the service charge is generally included in the bill), but do give a slight bow and say thank you. Hotel porters, however, customarily receive a bit of change, as do taxi drivers-but only if they assist with the luggage.Shopping Hours at department stores are usually 10:30 AM-7:30 PM, including Sundays (though they close for one day during the week). Smaller shops keep hours of 8:30 AM-6 PM (though some remain open even longer), and are open most days of the week.
  17. Health Matters – Avoid tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered, or chemically disinfected (e.g. with iodine tablets); only eat fresh fruit and vegetables that’s been cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain un-pasteurised milk, and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors. If you develop diarrhoea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral re-hydration solution containing lots of salt and sugar.
  18. Language – The Korean language is spoken by its more than 65 million people living on the peninsula and its outlying islands. It is a crucial factor in their strong national identity. Korea has several different dialects but they are similar enough that they have no trouble at all understanding each other.
  19. Civil Unrest – Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided by a de-militarised zone separating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north from the Republic of Korea in the south. While peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement, political tensions have the potential to escalate with little warning. Demonstrations are frequent and may turn violent.
  20. Personal Security – The Republic of Korea has one of the highest rates of traffic deaths for a developed country. There is a strong presumption that car drivers are at fault in accidents involving injury to pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common in accidents involving injury.
  21. Emergencies – Throughout the country, call 112 for police and 119 for the fire department or to summon an ambulance.
  22. Local Law – Local laws and legal processes can be very different from those in your home country. A violation of local laws may result in a jail sentence, served in a local prison. Consular assistance cannot override local law, even where local laws may appear harsh or unjust by your home country’s standards.The Republic of Korea does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of some country officials to provide consular assistance to those with dual nationality such as an Australian/Republic of Korea dual national who is arrested or detained.Some criminal laws, including – but not limited to – those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism and child sex tourism, have extraterritorial effect. Anyone who commits such offences outside of their home country may be prosecuted for those offences.
  23. Dialling Codes – The international telephone access code is 82. The area code for Seoul is 02, for Pusan 051, for Kwangju 062, and for Taejon 042. Omit the 0 if calling from abroad. To place an outgoing direct-dialled international call, dial 001 or 002 plus the country code and number. To reach an international operator, dial 0077, and for local directory assistance, dial 114.
  24. Dining Tips – In Korea, especially at restaurants other than 4 star establishments, you may want to order your meat to be cooked a little more than you usually would. If you like your steak medium, order it medium well, if rare then order medium rare, etc. Chefs will generally take your meat off the grill a little early if you don’t request this.
  25. Public Holidays – Banks and most businesses close on New Year’s Day and the day after (1-2 January), Lunar New Year (three days in January or February; dates vary), Independence Movement Day (1 March), Arbor Day (5 April), Children’s Day (5 May), Buddha’s Birthday (May; date of celebration varies), Memorial Day (6 June), Constitution Day (17 July), Liberation Day (15 August), Ch’usok, or the Harvest Moon Festival, also known as Korean Thanksgiving (celebrated for three days in September or October; dates vary), National Foundation Day (3 October), and Christmas Day (25 December).
  26. Electricity – The current is either 110 or 220 volts AC, 60 Hz. You’ll find plugs with two flat pins (110 volts) or with two round pins (220 volts). Visitors from abroad who wish to operate personal small electronic items, should bring a plug adapter and a transformer
  27. Entering Buddhist Temples – You can enter Buddhist temples even if a service is under way. Enter through a side door, leave your shoes by the door and sit down at the side of the hall. Don’t sit or stand directly in front of the main Buddha image.

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